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We Talked About Hijab

The Let’s Talk About Hijab series has ended and we talked a lot about hijab over the past two months. This first guest-post series far surpassed my expectations. We heard from a wide variety: Muslim and Christian, covered and not, expatriates and living in their home countries. Initially I wondered if I would find anyone willing to contribute and now I feel surrounded, internetly, by a group of incredible and deep and generous women.

Here are some quotes, comments, photos, and reminders of all who participated. Each of these women have beautiful blogs and I encourage you to visit them on their own sites to continue hearing their wisdom and perspectives.

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Essays (in order of posting):

Anita Dualeh with Why Doesn’t Your Wife Wear Hijab. She writes about being married to a Somali and the reaction of shopkeepers when she doesn’t wear hijab.

I wrote Hijab, Definitions. I write about the wide culturally-based diversity of hijab and what the Bible and the Quran say regarding modesty.

Pari Ali with Hijab, the Universal Struggle. She writes about being a Muslim woman who does not wear hijab and about inner character.

Afia R. Fitriati with Asking the Right Questions. She writes about setting aside assumptions and moving beyond the veil to human conversation.

J.R. Goodeau with Through the Eyes of Children. She writes about lessons learned alongside her daughter as they befriend women who cover.

Marilyn Gardner with Rethinking the Veil. She writes about the importance of being willing to listen and to change our assumptions and opinions.

Chaltu Berentu with The Thousand Stories of Hijab. In this Poet Nation video, Chaltu talks about being more than what she wears.

Sarita Agerman with Am I Good Enough To Wear This? She writes about her relationship with the scarf as she began contemplating Islam.

Vajiha with The Veil Between Two Realms. She writes about the all-encompassing nature of hijab.

Fascinating Comments:

These kinds of comments are exactly why I was excited about this series. Conversations have been challenging and rich.

Marilyn, on Am I Good Enough to Wear This: I wear a gold Ethiopian cross around my neck. It is probably one of my favorite possessions. Throughout your post I kept on thinking “What kind of responsibility do I feel toward wearing a cross” – it was a punch gut reaction.

Richelle, on Let’s Talk about Hijab (the initial post): that was a huge shock to me. most my muslim friends are strong, confident and independent woman. they are intelligent, even if they are not educated. they are valued members of their families and no one doubts the important role they play. in fact, they just seem like normal women – they laugh and gossip, make dinner, worry about sick kids, don’t get enough sleep and find their husbands frustrating at times. and most of them have embraced, love and find great comfort in the traditions and practices that identify them as a part of this world. i find it hard to label that as oppressive.

MPieh on Asking the Right Questions: I often find that my split-second judgments and preconceived assumptions about a person, based on appearance, are totally “off” when I take the time to actually get to know that person. Thank you for this…a great reminder today.

Sarita on Am I Good Enough to Wear This?: a lot can be said for coming into a faith in later life as opposed to growing up with it. I certainly took things for granted as a Christian because I was so familiar with them, especially as my parents were ministers themselves so it was an integral part of the fabric of family life.

Thanks again to all these women and readers. Any ideas on a next series?!

Let’s Talk about Hijab: Am I Good Enough to Wear This?

Today’s guest post in the Let’s Talk about Hijab series is one I have been eagerly waiting for. Sarita Agerman and I are doing a little blog-swap. Last week I was at Hotchpotch Hijabi in Italy with I Don’t Live in a One-Word World and this week she is visiting Djibouti Jones. The way she approaches Islam on her blog is open, honest, deep, and ultimately, relatable. I find it fascinating that when she writes about being a newbie at mosque or about the hijab mirror test, though I have never prayed in a mosque or committed to wearing hijab on a daily basis, I can connect with her stories as they shed light on my own experiences. And this is what good writing and true living do. I also love the virtual friendship we are forming and the fact that when I told her my kids were going back to Kenya on Monday she said she would pray for me. This is what the Let’s Talk about Hijab series is after – not uniformity but community. Enjoy…

Outward Sign of an Inward Faith: Am I Good Enough to Wear This?

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Not all women choose to wear it and there are (as in everything) different interpretations of whether it’s obligatory or not, but in my case the hijab was something I choose to adopt pretty much straight away.  For me, it was part and parcel of the process of converting.  My relationship with the physical scarf was a useful gauge as to how I was progressing in my tentative spiritual journey towards Islam.

I had the occasions, like many other female converts, when I would watch Pearl Daisy or Nye Armstrong’s videos till late into the night. I’d squeal with excitement and then rush to the mirror to try the hijab out for myself. Of course, it would be wonky or fall off but that didn’t matter. I didn’t mind that I couldn’t pull off the architectural feat of keeping the scarf on my head because I was happy, excited and feeling open to the new emerging influence in my life.

The times when I looked into the mirror and disliked my hijabified reflection were, with hindsight, the times when I was feeling scared by the changes that were going on in my life. As I wrestled with the theological differences between two faiths, I saw this battle play itself out in front of the mirror on a smaller scale. I’d get tangled up in my scarf, get annoyed with it and then throw it to the ground in exasperation.

During one of my more enthusiastic phases, I ventured out wearing an experimental turban to the local garden centre in the sleepy English village where I lived. I pottered about the pots and petunias with my internal paranoia pendulum swinging between feeling confident and breezy to ‘aargh everyone’s staring at me.’ In reality though, I don’t think any of the passers-by were particularly shocked by my presence and were probably more concerned about which pebbles would suit their new rock garden. Yet despite the lack of drama, it was still a significant step for me. It made me realize that despite my occasional paranoia, I actually felt comfortable with people being able to identify me as a Muslim by the way I dressed.

This realization brought with it a strong sense of responsibility. I didn’t feel at the time that I had enough Islamic knowledge to wear an article of clothing so steeped in tradition and with such political and religious connotations thrust upon it by the media and society. I worried that I’d be asked questions about Islam which I won’t be able to answer.

Or perhaps even worse (in my mind), was the fear that someone would speak to me in Arabic and I’d have no idea what to say in return. There have been so many times when someone has said asalaamu alaykum to me in the street and I was so excited that all that came out was a weird ‘waaaaaaaaaaaaaa,’ as it was the only syllable I could remember of the expected response ‘wa alaykum salaam.’

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Social awkwardness aside, I often felt inadequate wearing something which represented faith and modesty when I was still in a transitional period of discovering more about Islam and my own personal beliefs. I can understand why some Muslim women find the act of wearing hijab tough because it comes with the weight of representation. If you miss a prayer or two as I sometimes do, or find yourself daydreaming about lunch during Salah (the five daily prayers) then you begin to feel bad wearing something that for many people, whether rightly or wrongly, represents piety. If you think in that way then it’s easy to feel like a fraud when you fail to achieve the high standard which you expect of yourself and think others expect too.

Hijab shouldn’t be viewed as an accolade, like a medal for winning a race, rather it should be viewed in the same way as the number pinned to the chest of a long-distance runner. It says to the world that you’re participating in a spiritual journey which is still in progress and even though at times you might fail miserably, you’re going to keep going.

In this way, I see the hijab as way of acknowledging that I’m not perfect but that I aspire to the values which the hijab represents. It isn’t there to chastise me for my failings but to remind me and encourage me to carry on despite them. The important thing is to consider our intentions and to continue trying, despite all our weakness, to be a better person and improve our relationships with God and those around us.

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Sarita is an English language teacher from the UK who currently lives in Bologna, Italy with her husband.  She converted to Islam two years ago and began to write a blog last year as a way of sharing her experiences as a new convert and newbie teacher in a foreign country. She has recently started studying the Arabic alphabet with the aim of one day mastering the tricky letter ﻉ.

You can also find Sarita on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Other posts in the series:

Let’s Talk about Hijab

Why Doesn’t Your Wife Wear Hijab? by Anita Dualeh

Hijab: Definitions

Hijab: the Universal Struggle by Pari Ali

Asking the Right Questions by Afia R. Fitriati

Through the Eyes of Children by J.R. Goodeau

Rethinking the Veil by Marilyn Gardner

The Thousand Stories of Hijab, by Chaltu Berentu, a video via The Poet Nation

Let’s Talk about Hijab: Links 

Let’s Talk about Hijab, Links

**praying for Boston today. As a marathoner (who will likely never be fast enough for Boston) I somehow feel this on a personal level. I can only imagine finishing a marathon and having a bomb explode. Sometimes here in Djibouti at the end of the half-marathon, punks throw plastic bottles filled with urine at finishers. As awful as it is, I would choose that over a bomb any day. The photos and news make me want to run another marathon, hadn’t felt that in a while.**

**also…praying for Mogadishu today. As a person who has lived in Somalia, I somehow feel this on a personal level. I can only imagine being in court and having a bomb explode. Not sure that the photos and news of this story make me want to go there, but I can’t ignore it. Two dozen dead. Oh for mercy and justice to rain down on all sides of this planet.**

This week for the Let’s Talk about Hijab series, I simply want to send you around the web to discover a sliver of what is out there, by Muslim women, about hijab. There is seemingly no limit to the amount of stories, information, and varied perspectives. I think it is safe to say that there is clearly no one-size fits all style or conviction about hijab.

Lovely, stylish women at the school parade

Lovely, stylish women at the school parade

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  • Minnie Detwa, the girl with the elephant in the room. When a Muslim chooses to remove the hijab.
  • Hotchpotch Hijabi in Italy, Ummah Beware, its the ‘H’ Word, changing the emphasis from outer to inner hijab.
  • Love, InshAllah, Hijab: A Love Story, a woman’s on-again, off-again relationship with hijab. (I read this book Love, InshAllah, last year. Good insights. Here’s a blurb from the website: “Love Inshallah [goes] to a place where few, if any, books have gone before. Lesbians, co-wives, converts to Islam, Shia, Sunni, black, brown and white: every voice is unique. Collectively, they sing of strength, passion and love. One can’t help but to sit back and listen, captivated. – Samina Ali, award winning author of Madras on Rainy Days”
  • Amal Awad at Aquila-Style, Perspectives on Muslim Feminism, on striving for the empowerment of women.

 

The hijab series will wrap up in a few weeks with a couple of fantastic bloggers. Are there topics or questions you would still like to see addressed?

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Other Posts in the series:

Let’s Talk about Hijab

Why Doesn’t Your Wife Wear Hijab? by Anita Dualeh

Hijab: Definitions

Hijab: the Universal Struggle by Pari Ali

Asking the Right Questions by Afia R. Fitriati

Through the Eyes of Children by J.R. Goodeau

Rethinking the Veil by Marilyn Gardner

The Thousand Stories of Hijab, by Chaltu Berentu, a video via The Poet Nation

By |April 16th, 2013|Categories: Faith, Islam|Tags: , , |1 Comment

Let’s Talk about HIjab: The Thousand Stories of Hijab

This week’s Let’s Talk about Hijab post is a video from The Poet Nation, a Somali art and poetry hub. The Poet Nation is an on-line community that brings together Somalis from across the world to share and promote their art. This is an incredibly talented and unique group of people and I have had the privilege of working with the founder and contributing occasionally to the site. This particular video is performed by a young Minneapolis-based woman named Chaltu Berentu.

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Remember this post that talks about how hijab is deeper and more than merely clothing? How it is a matter of the heart? Whether you wear hijab or not, what’s one of your hijab stories?

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Other Posts in the series:

Let’s Talk about Hijab

Why Doesn’t Your Wife Wear Hijab? by Anita Dualeh

Hijab: Definitions

Hijab: the Universal Struggle by Pari Ali

Asking the Right Questions by Afia R. Fitriati

Through the Eyes of Children by J.R. Goodeau

Rethinking the Veil by Marilyn Gardner

Let’s Talk about Hijab: Rethinking the Veil

Today’s post in the Let’s Talk about Hijab series is by Marilyn Gardner. While I’m thrilled about the fantastic posts in this series, the best part of it personally has been connecting with and meeting such unbelievably incredible women from all over the planet. I have only known Marilyn via email, Twitter, and blogs, and only for short time but she has challenged me to write better, think deeper, and love wider. Enjoy her post, Rethinking the Veil.

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In May of last year Dr. Leila Ahmed, a well-known professor at the Harvard Divinity School published a book A Quiet Revolution: The Veil’s Resurgence from the Middle East to America. The idea for the book was born one evening in the late 1990’s when Dr. Ahmed was walking with a friend in her Cambridge neighborhood. As they passed by a park, they noticed a group of women, all in hijab.

Dr. Ahmed was raised in Egypt during the fifties and sixties. At this time in Egypt, the veil was rarely seen – not only in Egypt, but also in other Muslim-majority countries. That particular evening, she was shocked and disturbed to see the hijab, symbolic to her of patriarchy and oppression, fully alive; revived and walking in her neighborhood. More shocking was to see the hijab worn in a country that allowed freedom of expression in both speech and dress.

As a Muslim feminist she set out to study this phenomenon and the result is a thick volume published by Yale University Press.

Her findings should be a lesson for all of us, particularly those with little understanding of the hijab– those who tend to box and stereotype the Muslim world in general and Muslim women in particular.

The interviews showed a variety of reasons why women choose to wear hijab. From “raising consciousness about sexist messages in our (American) society” to national pride to rejecting negative stereotypes, the reasons were well thought out and articulated.

The hijab was worn with both knowledge and pride.

photo by Pari Ali

photo by Pari Ali

Along with that, her research revealed some of the characteristics of a “living” religion like Islam – namely that they are ever-changing, never static, not easily put into a box. The hijab is just one example of this dynamic.

In Pakistan I grew up with Muslim women surrounding me and friendships were formed at early ages, some that continue to this day. I well remember when my childhood friends entered puberty and with that rite of passage, put on the burqa. Because of this history, I’ve often been put in a posture of defending those who wear hijab, or burqa, or other head coverings. And my defense rightly comes from knowing so many women who have chosen to wear the veil – not because they are forced or coerced, but for many of the reasons that Dr. Ahmed cites.

I am also humbly aware that my words and thoughts are inadequate to the complexity of the role these women play on the local and world stage.

But there is one thing I can say with surety: Muslim women are not monolithic. Just looking at the vocabulary that surrounds the veil is proof of the diversity present in the Muslim world. The image often conjured up of a fully veiled woman walking behind her husband is only occasionally correct.

As a non-Muslim, I hesitate to speak with too much authority. It seems arrogant to speak for women who have chosen to wear (or not wear) hijab. But too often those in the west criticize the veil without having met a Muslim, without ever interacting on a personal level and that I can speak to.

In the course of her research, Dr. Ahmed confronts her own assumptions and beliefs as a “progressive” Muslim. She says in an article from the Financial Times published in 2011 “My own assumptions and the very ground they stood on have been fundamentally challenged” This serves as a lesson for me, and I hope for those reading. Being willing to have our assumptions challenged is not easy, but it is critical, particularly in a world too often driven by stereotypes promoted by those with the loudest and most insistent voices.

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Marilyn Gardner grew up in Pakistan and as an adult lived in Pakistan and Egypt for 10 years. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, fifteen minutes from the International Terminal at Logan Airport.  She loves God, her family, and her passport in that order. She met Dr. Ahmed while she was awaiting the release of her book. Find her blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries and on Twitter @marilyngard

Other posts in this series:

Let’s Talk about  Hijab

Why Doesn’t Your Wife Wear Hijab? by Anita Dualeh

Hijab: Definitions

Hijab: the Universal Struggle by Pari Ali

Asking the Right Questions by Afia R. Fitriati

Through the Eyes of Children by J.R. Goodeau